The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) removed everyday barriers to full participation in employment opportunities for millions of disabled Americans. Modifications to office buildings, municipal structures, public transportation, and workplaces have benefitted those with physical limitations as requirements were met. To keep up with today’s digital world, these requirements have been extended to include digital media and web content. Progress has been made, however there is still much work to be done.
At least 20% of Americans suffer from a long-term disability that impacts their ability to interact with web content and digital media. These disabilities can prevent them from working, shopping, and browsing effectively. ADA website compliance laws provide companies, organizations and government entities with the guidelines required to ensure equal access to digital media for those with disabilities. Efforts to meet these guidelines can be complicated and costly. However, those who meet legal requirements will not only avoid increases in government crackdowns on these laws, but also increase their ability to reach and interact with this large segment of the population.
The Cost of Ignoring ADA Website Compliance
Digital noncompliance itself is not a new challenge. In the early 90s, the Title III amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act designated a customer-facing website as a “place of public accommodation,” like a storefront, and ADA Title I extended equal opportunities to cover IT accessibility and usability. The legislation sought to reach an estimated 64 million Americans online, but businesses have been slow to take action, which has undermined them in subtle ways.
A growing portion of sales happen online and brands that neglect ADA website compliance miss millions of potential buyers. All digital consumers show impatience with bad design. Adobe found 39% of consumers stop engaging with content if images won’t load or take too long to load. When online businesses routinely prevent millions of disabled Americans from using critical features, those people will take their business to organizations that value their experience.
There’s also a serious legal component facing businesses. Litigation against ADA violators is on the rise with a 37% increase of ADA Title III suits filed in federal courts during 2016. For example, Target Corporation paid out $6 million to settle their site inaccessibility suit (not including other legal expenses) and other organizations, large and small, have paid $10 million or more. In addition to lost business, the expense of complaints, litigation, damages paid, and injunctions add up.
4 Considerations for ADA Accessible Design
One of the biggest barriers to ADA accessibility is reframing mindsets. Making websites and applications accessible to Americans with disabilities not only takes effort, but is a conscious decision. An effective application user experience takes comprehensive end user needs into consideration. By seeking out proper resources and guidance, the process of identifying website deficiencies can become less cumbersome.
Consider the ADA website compliance guidelines. The federal government points out common shortcomings across the web and makes suggestions about how to overcome them.
- Do images have text equivalents? People who are blind, have low vision, or are impaired in other ways that limit their ability to read from screens need alternatives to pictures, charts, color-coded information, or graphics. Some solutions are as simple as using alt tags to provide text for every image or graphic. More than just a few words, these descriptions need to convey the image for the audience.
- Are fonts in an accessible form, size, or color? Low vision or colorblindness prevents some people from seeing the nuance or details of a website, making navigation difficult. Creating the right level of accessibility requires companies to build websites where PDFs are easily translatable into RTF forms and colors and font sizes are easily adjustable.
Are videos closed captioned? Video content is on the rise and more companies need to be aware of the importance of closed captioning for the hearing impaired. YouTube provides instructions on closed captioning on their website, making the posting of ADA accessible videos all the more straightforward.
- Are there flashing lights or fast graphics? Thankfully, most of web design has drifted from the glaring flash and frenetic style of the late 90s – remember all those horrible popups? Yet it’s still important to consider as a best practice whether or not graphic elements move at a speed that a full range of website visitors can absorb. Testing applications for clear visibility prevents lost business or potential lawsuits.
Making ADA Web Design Compliance a Priority
All of the above recommendations are only the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous other design flaws to consider, and as new trends sweep through UI/UX design, new barriers to Americans with disabilities will arise if companies fail to maintain awareness and be proactive with updates.
Whether it is achieved through a dedicated internal specialist, or an ADA-savvy group of consultants, it is important for companies to consider the impact of digital assets to help their business units maintain compliance with current and future regulations.